Peterborough United’s nickname is The Posh because they have an air of undeserved self-entitlement. Mind you, that didn’t stop them winning 2-0 on Saturday. Oxford were without Cameron Brannagain, who missed out due to a problem with his eyes. Concerns were raised after he was heard to say ‘I can see us keeping a clean sheet for this one’ before the game.
Sunday 18 October 2020
Alex’s son, Peterborough boss Darren Ferguson was cockahoop at his team’s display; “I always felt the team who passed the ball better would dominate.” he said from beneath the shadow of his father. Impressive foresight from a man whose team’s passes were objectively less in number and accuracy. Not a mistake his dad would have made, we’re sure.
It was the Eight Minute Eighteen Seconds Fans Forum with Jose’s son John Mousinho on Thursday. Questions turned to our defensive frailties. Mousinho defended the issue, by which we mean he lost his runner and found himself a bit square at the back. He heaped praise on Headington United’s Sam Long as the ‘best squad player in the history of the game’. Which is like being called the world’s nicest mass murderer or sexiest paedophile.
Sad news as it was announced that Chrissy Allen has left the club. To mark his long association with Oxford, he was given his very own commemorative Unipart advertising display board to run head first into in his garden.
Good golly Miss Molly, Saturday’s derby has been postponed after a viral outbreak in the Swindon camp. The Swindon training ground was a hideous sight with people yacking their guts up, doubled over in agony with vomit coming out of their noses. All you could hear for miles around were the primal groans of great sickening anguish and screams for death’s sweet release. And then they caught coronavirus.
On Thursday, I woke in the night feeling a bit overwhelmed with All The Things. If it wasn’t the pandemic, it was the recession, if it wasn’t the recession, it was civil rights unrest.
This week I could write about the EFL’s ongoing ineffectiveness, but they’ve been ineffective, so not much has changed. Then I thought about the Black Lives Matter movement. I thought long and hard about it; maybe I could celebrate Oxford’s black players, but would it be too tokenistic and trite? It’s a bit ‘white privilege’ to feel like you have a licence to judge.
Then I saw comedian Desiree Burch talking about how overwhelming it feels to change society, she suggested that reflecting on your own views and actions was a heck of a start. So I did, and this is what I came up with…
When I first started watching Oxford United there was a player called Joe Cooke who captained the club for a period. My tactical awareness was limited; sometimes he played up front and sometimes centre-back. He was physical, fast and strong, but the real reason I knew his position was because he was the only black man in the team.
Joe Cooke might have been the first ‘real’ black person I was aware of. I knew people like Pele, Muhammad Ali and Cyril Regis but they were other-worldly, in rural Oxfordshire, there were very few black people around. Cooke might have been Oxford’s first black player, certainly one of the first. In every sense he stood out.
A few years later, when I started going to The Manor regularly we were spearheaded by striker Keith Cassells. Cassells scored a bucketload of goals, the fans sang a song to the tune of a British Airways advert about him. He was physical, fast and strong. And black.
Cassells moved to Southampton; then came George Lawrence. Lawrence was a powerhouse, his thighs, smothered with Deep Heat, shone under The Manor lights. He would maraud down the wing, terrifying defences. The roar as he attacked down the flank lives with me now. Lawrence was physical, fast, strong. And black.
Later would come Chris Allen; silky across the grass. There was a joke about having to put a Unipart advertising board up so he knew which direction to run. He was a whippet; physical, fast, strong. And black. More recently, there was Chey Dunkley, one of my favourite players from our promotion season – physical, strong, fast. And black.
Over 40 years, it’s been a recurring theme; the adjectives used to describe black Oxford players were often physical. But with Cooke there was Shotton, with Cassells; Foley, Lawrence had Brock, Allen had Beauchamp, Dunkley had Wright. These players were usually described as technical, clever or leaders and were all white.
I genuinely loved Cooke, Cassells and the others, they provided some of the most exciting times as a fan. Dunkley’s goal against Wycombe, his Cruyff turn at Wembley. Lawrence terrifying Manchester United and Arsenal on famous nights at The Manor. I have preconceptions of them, they’re all positive, but they exist.
It’s the preconceptions where the issue lies. Imagine tiny fragments of preconceptions building up over centuries. Imagine them often being negative and being held across millions of people; not just the physical, but cultural; preconceived ideas about criminality, violence, intelligence and rationality all fusing together, building a picture of what we think a black person is.
Then imagine this being enforced, then reinforced over and over. Packed down under layers and layers of preconceptions until it becomes a rock, a solid, undeniable, fact. Then imagine it being confirmed by people you trust, people with similar misconceptions – friends, family – and the governments and institutions here to represent and look after us. Over and over again. Right up to the point where you can kneel on someone’s neck and kill them and somehow justify the act in your head.
Most people never get to that point, of course, but most, myself included, judge people based on the mess of their experiences. I have watched a disproportionate number of strong, physical and fast black people playing football. That is big part of my experience of black people and, unchecked, could form a big part of my preconception. It is my responsibility to challenge those experiences deconstruct what my brain thinks it knows.
We all do it; we all judge things based on preconceptions. It’s how the brain processes things quickly – it takes a quick snapshot, applies a liberal dose of preconception and decides on an action. People dismiss their own views as being unfettered by preconceptions. ‘All lives matter’ is the sobriquet used by those opposing the focus on black people. It sounds logical and correct, but it ignores the evidence that black lives appear to be preconceived as significantly more disposable, in other words, they matter less.
My preconception of physical, strong, fast black footballers is fairly benign but not to be ignored. Sprinter Linford Christie spoke about how a media obsession with his ‘lunchbox’ – a bit of a joke, but ultimately a racial stereotype – drove him to distraction. Differentiating people based on the colour of someone’s skin is what creates racism. Most white people don’t abuse or attack black people, but we’re all bombarded with information that drives us to pre-define what a black person is. That’s very likely to influence your actions and the actions of others.
It’s not always violent, it’s not always abusive, it’s not even always negative, but those preconceptions are evidently wearing, debilitating, frustrating and exhausting. I’ve been in work situations where people have pre-judged me with little opportunity to challenge or prove them wrong, it’s maddening. Imagine that, but handed down over centuries, chipping away until the anger boils over and there’s little to lose from taking action, which is where we are today.
I need to check my preconceptions constantly and attack my illogical conclusions, recognise the narrowness of my experience and that those experiences, though no less ‘real’, are not the same experiences as others. And despite all that, despite driving my subconscious into my consciousness and picking those thoughts apart I still have preconceptions based on race. And that is not to apologise for people’s racism and excuse them from their actions, it’s to promote the idea society moulds you long before you realise it’s having an effect on how you act. There is a responsibility on us all to challenge those ideas, break them up and push them aside. It’s a life’s work.
When I reflect, one of the reasons I really like Chey Dunkley during 2015/16 is not his physicality, it was his backstory. He once described himself as the club mascot because he couldn’t get a game, his first start that season against Bristol Rovers was shaky and he should have been sent off, but he’d posted pictures pre-season working on his fitness, he was studying for his degree, I liked him because of how hard he was working to get to where he wanted. By April he was doing Cruyff turns at Wembley and the next month scoring against Wycombe to win promotion. It’s such a great story, I so want him to play in the Premier League.
Anti-racism rhetoric can come across as preachy; it’s easy to dismiss it as ‘woke’ or politically correct. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that even if you’re tired of the ethical and moral arguments, if you feel you ‘get it’ and wish people would stop scoring moral points, there is a perhaps an additional point that pre-judging people is generally ineffective.
I don’t want to judge the motivations of racists and apologists, but I can categorically say that I have a personal responsibility to keep my pre-conceptions in check and adjust my behaviour. My experience of black people and black culture is only positive, my upbringing and environment has encouraged me to be accepting of things I haven’t experienced and be liberal towards others. I know that every time I’ve tripped up and prejudged people based on broad brush ideas of gender, sexuality, nationality or ethnicity, I’ve been wrong – not just morally and ethically wrong – though that as well – but materially, objectively and factually wrong.
Cassells became senior award winning policeman, Lawrence a football agent, Allen a professional coach retained by three of the best managers we’ve had – Wilder, Appleton and Robinson. Chey Dunkley has a sports science degree from the country’s top university in the subject. Smart, capable people, not just physical, strong and fast people.
Perhaps you don’t pre-judge people, but when I stop and think, I know as much as I don’t want to; I do. Judging people on their appearance is natural, but it’s also an ineffective way of drawing conclusions about them. But, there it is, pre-judging – racism – I’m certain it exists in all of us to some extent and impacts the lives of many people, which is why it’s important to keep explicitly reminding yourself that black lives matter.
A South African international who played in the World Cup, Andre Arendse was a master of the goalkeeping arts. Those he chose to get involved in; diving, shot stopping and catching were all beneath him.
A brand as much as a player; Foster’s trademark headband and tight curly hair made him one of the most recognised players in the country. Sadly, by the time we got him he was past his best, but still a formidable leader in his time.
Simon Marsh had a strange career. A contemporary of Paul Powell and Joey Beauchamp among others, Marsh looked all set to be a marginal character. Then he managed to get a run in Malcolm Shotton’s team that vaguely threatened the play-offs in 1998. It resulted in an England Under-21 cap and a transfer to Birmingham City at which point his career hit a brick wall.
During quieter years, fans start to look for things to entertainment themselves; that’s when cults rise. The cult of Nick Cusack grew out of the fallow early-90s; an attacking midfielder who couldn’t really score in a team that did even less. At first it was frustrating, then it felt rather appropriate.
Mark Stein was one of those players; had the pace and skill to be a world class, and the temperament to disappear. But, he won the League Cup with Luton and played in the Premier League and a Cup Final for Chelsea. Somewhere in amongst it all he played for us.
Mark Angel looked like he played bass in a marginal Madchester baggy band with his mop of curly hair gelled into a centre parting. He had his moments but was always overshadowed by other wingers at the club.
42 – Gary Smart
During the 90s we were a tidy club made up of tidy players, we had to be, we couldn’t afford to gamble. Gary Smart was one of the tidiest of them all.
41 – Alex Dyer
Alex Dyer was a talented and sometimes frustrating player; what he lacked in pace he made up for in his head. A slow burner who earned the respect of the London Road through is relentless consistency. The London Road would echo to the tune of Alex Dyer M’Lord, Alex Dyer.
The early-90s are a bit of a blind spot for me, I didn’t get to a lot of games because of university and so a number of players swirl around my head as though one. For me, Dave Collins, Nick Cusack, Jimmy Phillips all merge into one. Jimmy Phillips isn’t the other two.
The 90s Simon Clist; was once subjected to a racial slur from Mike Ford in the matchday programme – something to do with his complexion and taxis. He frustrated fans a lot of the time due to his conservative style, but provided a solid platform for Joey Beauchamp, Chris Allen and Stuart Massey during our promotion season.
Mustoe was one who got away. He broke into the team in 1987 from the youth ranks, but couldn’t get any traction. Eventually, he slipped away to Middlesbrough where he played over 350 games and ended up enjoying a lengthy career in the Premier League.
One of those players whose ranking was probably more down to what he did at other times. A marginal player who graduated from the youth ranks in 1991, but never quite made it and headed off to Cambridge. Returned in 2003 for a few solid years at The Kassam before retiring.
36 – Martin Gray
Scuttling midfielder who dedicated his life to perfecting the sideways pass. An unrelentingly frustrating player to watch, yet alongside Dave Smith (39) was the bedrock of the 1996 promotion team.
Aka – porn star. Comedy Swedish goalkeeper who shared responsibilities for letting in goals during 1999-2000 with Andre Arendse (48). Perhaps most famous for scoring a penalty in a Football League Trophy game against Wycombe. Yep, that was the high point.
34 – Ceri Evans
A Crewe fan once told me that he’d heard a fan ref heckle the ref at The Manor asking whether he’d been bribed with a place at the University. Funny right? His head would have exploded if he’d known we had a Rhodes Scholar in the back-four.
The saddest story; Aldridge was a natural goal poacher; in any other era, he’d have been a first choice striker, but in the merry-go-round of Paul Moody, David Rush and Nigel Jemson he was mostly used as an impact player. Left the club in 1998 and was killed in a car crash two years later.
32 – Brian Wilsterman
The 1990s saw the emergence of the Premier League and all its cosmopolitan spirit. At Oxford United it was a time of great centre-backs. At the intersection of those two things was Brian Wilsterman. We loved him because he was from the same source as Cruyff and Bergkamp, we hated him because he was calamitous.
The more I think about Paul Reece, the smaller he gets. A particularly spongey goalkeeper capable of pulling off remarkable finger-tip saves, even from back-passes. Much of his ranking comes from perhaps the greatest Oxford United goalkeeping display of all time; away at Derby.
As we teetered on the edge of financial crisis, the presence of the endlessly likeable Frenchman lightened the mood around the place. A very capable full-back and our favourite non-British player of the 90s.
A vote more for what he did outside of the 90s. By 1990, Alan Judge’s Oxford career was winding down. But he’d been first choice keeper in Division 1 and played in the Milk Cup winning team. Briefly revived his career in 2003 during an injury crisis.
Probably not the 25th best player of the 90s in truth, but being a member of the 1986 Milk Cup winning team gives you a bit of a boost in these things.
24 – Jamie Cook
There was Beauchamp, Allen and Paul Powell and there was Jamie Cook. Often the third wheel in a merry-go-round of wingers during the 90s, he eventually headed off to Crawley and enjoyed a decent career. Returned in 2009, funded partly by the fans, and scored one of the greatest goals at the Kassam against Luton.
The 90s was full of great centre-backs, Andy Melville was among the best. The Welsh international and captain led the team through the early 90s before moving onto better things. Returned as a coach for five years.
Arrogant and unpleasant, it was a good job Nigel Jemson scored goals. Nothing dented his belief that the world revolved around him. There were very few who were sad to see him leave. In our second game at the Kassam, Jemson, by that point at Shrewsbury, ran the game, goading us to defeat. Suddenly we missed him dearly.
I’m not much of a fighter, but I will kill and kill again if anyone tries to argue against my view that Stuart Massey is the reason we were promoted in 1996. Beauchamp was too passive, Allen too raw; Massey demanded that players played to his strengths. When he got the ball to his feet he could drop a cross onto Paul Moody’s head from anywhere on the pitch.
20 – Darren Purse
Darren Purse was our back-up centre back behind Matt Elliot and Phil Gilchrist. But that masked the real talent he was. Occasionally fiery, it was clear from his early days that he would go onto greater things.
Not the most multi-dimensional player we’ve ever seen, but what Kevin Francis did, he did well. I’ve had Amazon Prime deliveries which have arrived quicker than it took for messages to make it from his head to his feet but when you launched a ball into the box usually bounced off his head into the goal.
Matt Murphy was considered an intellectual because he once worked in a bank. The go-to boo boy for any 90s London Roader, nobody around that time thought they were watching the 18th best player of the decade. Yet, that’s what he was, and someone who has rarely been bettered since.
17 – John Byrne
A beautifully complete player who was the perfect complement to Paul Moody in attack, it was a partnership too pure to last. But while it did, Byrne, with his trademarked goal celebrations and perfectly quaffed mullet was the cool cat to Paul Moody’s nerdy big brother.
After Johnny Byrne (17) left, David Rush was the perfect foil for Paul Moody; he had all the movement Moody didn’t. If you were a defender, even if you could deal with one; the other was a completely different challenge. In the roistering final stages of the 1995/6 season; David Rush was just the player we needed.
Everything that Mickey Lewis lacked in ability he made up for in commitment. In 350 games, he gave everything to the cause. His career petered out where he took up a number of coaching roles and, on two occasions 4 years apart, caretaker manager.
13 – John Durnin
The 90s were synonymous with lad culture, so there was nothing better than a player known to enjoy a pint and a fight. So, there was David Rush (16), and before that there was John Durnin.
There were times when Paul Powell was the best player I ever saw, with the ability to turn a game on its head with a drop of the shoulder and a jinking run. I thought he’d play for England. But it all seemed a bit too much and he never quite hit the dizzy heights. A broken leg stalled his career and he was never the same again.
11 – Mike Ford
He had the turning circle of a super tanker and the full range of appalling 90s haircuts, but Mike Ford was a true leader.
The definition of a loyal club servant. There was a period when it was difficult to imagine Oxford United ever starting a game without Les Robinson. It is hard to describe a player who never put a foot wrong in 458 games.
Bobby Ford looked like the captain of your school’s second eleven. A graceful playmaker, he was one of those players who seemed to loath his talent. Inevitably made his way to the top flight with Sheffield United, but gradually fell out of love with the game.
7 – Dean Windass
A brief, ill-advised fling during a period of despair. Windass was bought with money we didn’t have from Aberdeen. He snaffled a pile of goals, including one against Chelsea in the FA Cup which nearly put them out. Was sold to Bradford within a year and the proceeds went into paying Aberdeen the money we hadn’t paid for him. A moment of glorious madness.
The very definition of raw talent. When the pitches were good and there was a Unipart sign to run into there was simply nobody who could touch Chris Allen. With Joey Beauchamp on the other flank, we were flying. Sadly things went sour in 1996 and Allen headed for Nottingham Forest where his career rapidly went downhill. After a period working in a leisure centre, he gradually worked his way back to the club and became one of its most respected coaches.
Given the manner of his departure, within 24 hours of putting Leeds United out of the FA Cup in 1994, fourth is a pretty good result for Jim Magilton. Signed from Liverpool, Magilton possessed a touch and fitnesse which propped up an otherwise average mid-90s team.
A battering ram of a striker who looked like he hated the game. Given that he played with Nigel Jemson (22) that was probably true. Yet, despite this he conjured up iconic moments including a sublime hat-trick at Cardiff, the second goal against Peterborough to clinch promotion and an Arab spring which looked like a bag of snooker cues being thrown down the stairs.
Anyone who saw him play compares every Oxford United defender to Matt Elliot. An impenetrable force at the back; unbeatable in the air, calm and cultured on the floor, an attacking threat as much a defensive rock. It’s difficult to imagine a better all-rounder.
Well, obviously. This list was never about Joey Beauchamp who was pretty much guaranteed top spot from day one. A better player than Matt Elliot? Maybe not, but nobody has the narrative Joey Beauchamp does. Preston have Tom Finney, Everton have Dixie Dean, we have Joey Beauchamp.
The last game of the 1995/96 season, the week before we’d snuck into the automatic promotion places after a scintillating late season run. One more game, three more points, and then Denis Smith can wear a ginger wig and claim to be a future England manager.
A good game, if not a great game, but one in which you’ll be reminded just how good a player Chris Allen was, particularly when the pitches were good and the sun was shining.
3rd November 1992 – Home 5-5
There are people who weren’t born in 1992 who still claim to have been at this all time classic. There are people who were there who still stay to this very day stay the final whistle just in case it happens again. 3-5 with a minute to go? Do you beat the traffic, or wait for a miracle?
To decide our future, we need to learn the lessons of our past. Our current home form and, in particular, the debacle of our defeat to Scunthorpe has all the signs of a not so recent past.
Whenever anyone asks me how we won promotion in 1996, not that anyone has ever done that. Let’s just pretend I’m a mystical soothsayer with a whisty beard that lives on top of a mountain and people come and ask me existential questions about Oxford United.
Right, whenever anyone asks me how we won promotion in 1996, I don’t point to Paul Moody’s goals, or Joey Beauchamp’s creativity or Matt Elliot’s defending. I talk about Stuart Massey.
Early in the 1995/6 season, Oxford United had in their ranks a homegrown talent destined for big things, Chris Allen was a Blackbird Leys boy with breathtaking pace playing down the left flank. He was the epitome of raw talent and, with Joey Beauchamp’s career capitulating at Swindon, was the next great hope to come out of the club. All Allen needed was a Unipart advertising hoarding to aim at; you just had to knock the ball in front of him and he was off. He possessed blistering natural pace, and once he was set free the only thing that would stop him was either a poor sense of direction, he wasn’t one for looking where he was going much, or being clattered to the floor by some galoop of a defender. And that invariably ended with a penalty.
Each season was the same, when pitches were good and the ball to ran true, Allen would skate across the turf scoring goals, winning penalties and occasionally weighing in with a few assists. However, as the season progressed and pitches got stickier, Allen’s influence would whither; where we had a Ferrari on the wing, we really needed a tractor.
The 1995/6 season started with moderate form; we’d capitulated the year before having lead the table at Christmas, and the lull seemed to have continued. Allen had started well though, scoring on the opening day of the season at home to Chesterfield as well as in a creditable 1-1 draw against Premier League QPR in the League Cup. The problem was we couldn’t win away. Allen was a regular in a faltering third tier team; which was no place for a prospect like him. There were inevitable questions about when he would leave and for where. After Joey Beauchamp had left for West Ham (and then Swindon), Allen was his heir apparent for the big time.
In October, Allen played in a chastening 4-1 defeat at home to Wycombe Wanderers. It was a gutless, ponderous performance and a watershed; we wouldn’t again be defeated at the Manor all season. More profoundly for Allen, it would prove to be his last start for the club; Smith didn’t need a summer specialist in a League 1 shit fight.
It wasn’t just Allen’s fluctuating form that concerned Denis Smith; Nottingham Forest were sniffing around the place. Brian Clough had just retired and while Forest were no longer the force they had been, this was still a big club. Allen’s head had been turned by Clough’s successor Frank Clark, allegedly buying him a Mercedes Benz as an incentive to seal a deal. Eventually Allen went out on loan to Forest before securing an ultimately disastrous permanent deal. His exit was a curious situation where a League 1 player who couldn’t getting a game was being moved up to the Premier League.
Replacing Allen, initially, was the more compact Mark Angel who signed from Sunderland and debuted the week after the Wycombe debacle away to Blackpool. But it was Stuart Massey who would emerge as the key to the season’s revival and success. The pivotal moment in that season was an away win over Burnley in January; the team’s first away win. Ironically it was Massey and substitute Allen that scored. Thereafter, Massey was almost ever present while Chris Allen played fitfully from the bench, his last action being in the 1-1 draw with Notts County.
Massey had none of Allen’s pace, he didn’t have Beauchamp’s ability to go past people, he wasn’t big and strong. But Massey could cross and it was his forceful personality that demanded that the ball was played into his feet. Suddenly Oxford stopped lumping the ball up to Paul Moody, or putting pressure on the returning Beauchamp to pull rabbits out of hats, or knocking the ball over the defence into a bog of a pitch for Allen to run onto or expecting midfield duo Dave Smith and Martin Gray to suddenly become creative dynamos in the mould of Jim Magilton. The promotion squad was full of strong characters; Ford, Robinson, Elliot, Whitehead, Gilchrist, Moody; Massey was the kind of player who they listened to, Allen was not.
Watching the debacle against Scunthorpe, the half-way point in the season, it struck me that we have a similar situation. We’re not a bad team and wholesale change isn’t needed, but something isn’t working. Early on, in a false attempt to appear dynamic we were launching balls from the back four straight into Constable and Smalley. While they were fighting valiantly upfront, they were either getting closed down or left chasing lost causes. Meanwhile when the ball came back the other way, Scunthorpe were able to advance unopposed. While Jake Wright had a poor game and his mistake cost us the first goal, with the defence getting so much airtime, it is inevitable that eventually a pass will go astray. With the strikers and defenders doing so much work, it’s also not a surprise that things become ragged as the game progresses and they tire.
So where is the midfield?Asa Hall and Danny Rose spend most of the game watching the ball sailing over their heads. If the ball does come onto their radar, they are rarely on the front foot, ready to do something useful with it. They are not demanding the ball in the way Massey used to. They will take whatever scraps dribble their way. With strong personalities of Wright and Mullins behind them and Constable and Smalley in front, Hall and Rose are left as passive bystanders.
It isn’t really about ability; in the main I don’t have a problem with either of them. If they were needed as substitutes, or to cover the odd game, then I’d have no concerns, but as a regular midfield, they seem incongruous to the rest of the team. We need someone who is going to demand the ball in the way that allows them to be involved in the play. This will prevent the prosaic one-dimensional approach we currently take. At the moment we end up going over the top, or round the outside and down the flanks; the middle of the pitch is surrendered.
Dave Kitson has been giving the midfield some structure, but his pathological ill discipline means we can’t rely on him. Andy Whing, of course, is the man who is supposed to be providing greater balance in the team. But judging by his tweets, he’s targeting a return in mid-February, and that’s still by no means assured. Can we rely on our away form to pick up in the meantime? We’re still in need of a whorey old midfielder, a Paul McClaren type, who is going to impose a way of playing which uses all 11 players, not 8 or 9. This will take pressure off Rigg and Williams to be creative, or Mullins and Wright to spray Glenn Hoddle 50 yard passes from the back. This is easier said than done, of course, but it could be the key.